Before Moses died a series of solemn warnings were issued to the Children of Israel. Yahweh knows the end from the beginning, and on this basis Israel was forewarned of apostasy which would arise after Moses’ decease. In particular a Song of Witness was to be written, and Moses was told to “teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel” (Deut 31:19). So important was this Song that it was to be preserved in the side of the Ark in the Most Holy Place: “Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of Yahweh your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee” (v25,26). It is notable that the writing of the Song is described as “this book of the law” and also that the Song is spoken of as a “witness” on three occasions (v19,21,26).

The Song is recorded in Deuteronomy 32 and is a remarkable witness in itself to inspiration and the foreknowledge of God. It records with perfect accuracy the history of Israel, yet it was written before it unfolded. It speaks of the nation’s prosperity, apostasy and judgment. It speaks of Israel provoking Yahweh to jealousy by turning to the gods of the nations, and of Him in turn provoking them to jealousy with a “foolish nation”. Yahweh’s punishment of Israel at the hand of the nations would be moderated because the nations would say, “Our hand is high, and Yahweh hath not done all this” (v27). Part of the Song of Witness is yet to be fulfilled. From verse 35 onwards we read of Yahweh intervening on behalf of His people to save and vindicate them. So low and powerless will they be brought at the time of “Jacob’s trouble” that Yahweh “will repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left” (“none remaining, bond or free”; RSV v36; Jer 30:7). So it is “the perfect powerlessness of the tribes before their enemies that excites the indignation and compassion of Yahweh” (Eureka). The ultimate picture carries forward to the Kingdom when not only will Israel be saved but the nations, too, will join with Israel in worship. “Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people” (v43; Rom 15:10).

Historical References to the Song of Witness

One has only to glance at the marginal references in the Bible to see how often the figures of speech and hence the Song itself are referred to in Israel’s subsequent history. The general theme of this series of articles is “Things New and Old”, in which New Testament references to the Old Testament are examined. In this article, however, references to this prophecy during Israel’s history before Christ, as well as to apostolic times will be reviewed. It is not possible to be exhaustive, so selected and more obvious allusions will be expounded. We will consider the cross-references as they occur verse by verse and not as they occurred chronologically in history.

“Take this Book of the Law” (Deut 31:26)

We have already alluded to this interesting description of the Song of Witness, and have considered where it was to be kept, “in the side of the ark” in the Most Holy Place. From these facts alone, when we mentally peruse the history of God’s people we are led to a significant event, even to the reforms of Josiah, King of Judah. When repairs were being made to the house of Yahweh a significant find was made. Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of Yahweh” (2 Kings 22:8). Notice the term describing the writing, the “book of the law”, and the place where it was found! There can be little doubt that this was the “Song of Witness”. And not only that, but when the nature of its message was revealed the evidence is conclusive! Shaphan read the book and came to King Josiah. After outlining the progress made with the Temple’s renovations, he reported that Hilkiah had “delivered” him a book.

It was duly read in Josiah’s hearing. The effect of its contents upon the King was devastating: “when the King heard the words of the book of the law, he rent his clothes” (v11). He became exceedingly alarmed for “the book” outlined the awful judgments which Yahweh would pour out on His people if they turned away from Him. So the King immediately commanded Hilkiah, the priest, and others to “Go ye, enquire of Yahweh for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of Yahweh that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us”(v13). Huldah the prophetess responded in the words of Yahweh: “… I will bring evil upon this place… even all the words of the book which the King of Judah hath read: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched” (v15–17).

This response by Yahweh is interesting because it bears upon the contents of the book, the Song of Witness. There we read, “They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils [idols], not to God; to gods whom they knew not… And when Yahweh saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons and of his daughters” (Deut 32:16–19).

Jeremiah, and the Book of the Law

There is a further beautiful reference to this book. Jeremiah was a young man in the days of Josiah’s reforms. This discovery of “the book of the law” had an enormous impact upon him personally which he never forgot: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart: for I am called by thy name, O Yahweh God of hosts” (Jer 15:16). It does us well to contemplate the immense value he placed upon Yahweh’s words, and to ask ourselves the question, “Is Yahweh’s word the joy and rejoicing of our hearts?”

“For I Know That After My Departing”

The Song of Witness was an important document. Israel had to hear its contents as it was to serve as a warning to the faithful. It is ironical that a book written foretelling the calamitous history of Israel should itself become a source of belief in Yahweh!! So Moses commanded all the elders of the tribes and the officers “that he might speak these words in their ears… ”. Yahweh had told him that when he “slept with his fathers” the people would rise up and go a whoring after the gods of strangers and forsake him (Deut 31:16). So Moses gave this as the reason why they must carefully listen to this Song. Notice his words: “For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days… ” (v29).

These significant words have an echo in the New Testament in which the atmosphere and conditions were similar—when Paul was speaking what he thought would be his last words to the elders of the Ephesian ecclesia. He knew, too, that the truth would soon be corrupted by apostasy (2 Thess 2:2–12), and he issues a warning that recalls these last words of Moses: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the ecclesia of God… For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them… ” (Acts 20:28–30).

Moses’ last words of warning were given by the Spirit of God, and Paul’s, too, were carefully chosen and guided by the Spirit, and they call to mind those of Moses “the man of God”.

“The Song of Moses… and of The Lamb”

These words are recorded in Revelation 15:3–4 and celebrate the glorious victory of God and of His Son over the nations. It is intriguing that this commemorative adulation of the “Lord God Almighty” should be called the “Song of Moses… ”.

The marginal reference in the Oxford Bible directs attention to Exodus 15:1 and Deuteronomy 31:30. But first of all consider the words of the Song of Moses and of the Lamb: “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints [nations, mrg]. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” In this Song there are some clear allusions to the Song of Witness of Deuteronomy. First of all note that “Moses spake…the words of this song…” (31:30) and so in a sense they could be described as the Song of Moses. Moses emphasises Yahweh’s truth and justice in all His ways: “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God [El] of truth [emeth] and without iniquity, just and right is he” (32:4). The Oxford Bible’s margin picks up the allusion to Revelation 15:3 in the words, “just and true are thy ways”.

This point is further emphasised in the following chapter after the third angel “poureth out his vial upon the rivers…”. “Thou art righteous… because thou hast judged thus… Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (Rev 16:4–7).

The outcome of Yahweh’s judgments upon the nations is the fear of Him, the glorification of His name and all nations coming and worshipping before Him (Rev 15:4). The final words of the Song of Moses emphasise Yahweh’s absolute power, His vengeance upon His enemies who have persecuted His people, and finally the subordination and worship of all nations (Deut 32:39–43). So the attributes of Yahweh’s character, His love and vindication of His people and the culminating worship of all nations are common features of both the “Song of Witness” (or, of Moses) and “The Song of Moses and of the Lamb”.

“He is the Rock”

One of the outstanding features of the Song of Witness is that Yahweh is described as “the Rock”, spelt when it refers to Him with a capital (see verses 4,15,18,30,31). The word “rock” (spelt without a capital) also occurs twice in verse 13: “he made him [Israel] to suck honey out of the rock [Heb sela], and oil out of the flinty rock [Heb tzur]; verse 31, “For their [the nation’s] rock (Heb tzur) is not as our Rock”; and in verse 37, “Where are their gods, their rock (Heb tzur) in whom they trusted?” The use of tzur in reference to Yahweh here is the first occurrence in Scripture.

It is interesting to consider the contextual meanings given to the idea of Yahweh being a Rock in the Song and elsewhere in Scripture, especially in the Psalms. The meaning of the word in Strong’s Concordance is “a cliff, generally a rock, boulder and figuratively, a refuge”. There was a notable occasion in Israel’s history when Yahweh provided for His people in need. At Rephidim, as Israel was coming to Sinai, they were in desperate need of water. God told Moses, “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock [tzur] in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink” (Exod 17:6). Here then, Yahweh was associated with the rock from whence flowed the water of life. We know that this rock foreshadowed Christ, and the water of life that would flow from him once he was smitten (1 Cor 10:4; John 6:35–38; 4:13,14).

The reference to Yahweh as “The rock [tzur] of our salvation” in Psalm 95:1 is particularly poignant, because the Psalm goes on to warn Israel not to repeat the mistakes of the past. They were to “harden not your hearts, as in the provocation [Meribah] and as in the day of temptation [Massah] in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work”. This was the occasion referred to at Rephidim, when Yahweh “the Rock” stood on the rock and the waters of salvation flowed forth (Exod 17:1–7)!!

Also in Psalm 78, where Israel’s history is recounted, reference is made to the rock in Rephidim: “he smote the rock [tzur], that the waters gushed out” (v20), and to Yahweh as the Rock, “And they remembered that God was their rock (tzur), and the high God [El] their redeemer [gaal]”.

The basic ideas surrounding the use of the word Rock are reliability (v4), strength to protect and deliver (v15; 30–31; see also Isaiah 17:10), fatherhood (v18, cp also where Abraham is so described Isaiah 51:1).

David speaks of Yahweh as his rock in Psalm 18, when he celebrated Yahweh’s deliverance from the hand of all his enemies. Verse 2 reads, “Yahweh is my rock [sela], and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God [El], my strength [margin, Heb “my rock” tzur], in whom I will trust…”. Notably the word “tzur” is translated “strength” as it is also on other significant occasions where allusion back to the Song of Witness is thereby obscured. (For example, refer to Isaiah 26:4, “Yahweh is everlasting strength” (tzur; margin, Heb “the rock of ages”); and Habakkuk 1:12 “and, O mighty [tzur] God” (margin, Heb rock).

Other references inScripture to Yahweh as the Rock which have a bearing on the Song of Witness, are as follows: 2 Sam 23:3; Psa 18:31,46; 28:1; 31:2, 61:2, 62:6,7; 89:26; 92:15; 94:22, 95:1 and Isaiah 17:10.

Conclusion

There are numerous allusions back to Deuteronomy 32, the Song of Witness in the Scripture. Written at the commencement of Israel’s national history, these remarkable words of Divine inspiration show that Yahweh can “declare the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10).

The next article in the series will focus on further references in Scripture to this Song.